Friday, August 5, 2011

Stop Calling Yourself "white"

That is the first step a "white" person can take to combat racism.

When you call yourself "white" you are identifying with the oppressor. Not only your past oppressor, but people of color's current oppressor. It's time to reject the "white" label, name, and group for something better-- your own ethnicity.

In an effort to combat racism,  white supremacy, raise consciousness, and reclaim our ethnic culture, people formally known as "white" should reject it for the term "European-American" and join all other ethnic groups. This step would be unifying, and bring solidarity, and equalize all ethnicities as they should be. Currently the category of "white" is an exclusive group but I argue we should reject this in favor of equality and reclamation.

The term "white" is a socially constructed term and concept. This means there is no biological basis for race; it is simply made up by people. In fact, there is more genetic difference between a tall person and a short person than an African-American person and a European-American person.

Since there is a social construction of whiteness, it can therefore be deconstructed. In fact, I advocate for it to be rejected and eliminated. Instead I suggest the term "European-American" be used in the effort to reclaim our own individual ethnic backgrounds, cultural heritage and traditions. As an example, I identify myself as Italian-German American.

A long while ago European-American groups who came to America from European countries had their own ethnicity, culture, languages, etc. However, they were assimilated into an exclusive and sociologically superior group called "white." In order to belong to the "white" group, all the European-Americans gave up many of their distinct characteristics as distinct ethnicities. This played into the myth that all European-Americans are one homogenous group, and that by virtue of belongingness to this group, those within it were somehow better than those outside of it-- racially superior. Of course all of this is non-sense and is made up but it has real-world consequences.

That is why I am only one of many people who argue that as a "white" person one should reject whiteness and re-embrace one's own original ethnic background. Many of us have little to no clue who we really are. First that makes me very angry. I want to be in touch with my own culture but I was stripped of that opportunity. So I say, take it back! I have tried to learn more about my own origins and bring that culture and practices into my life now. At the same time I have consciously tried to reject whiteness and identify as Italian-German American or European-American. So I challenge you to do so as well.

This is just one step in combating racism in America since it rejects white privilege and white supremacy. European-Americans must readily admit that they have white privilege via the color of their skin and that white supremacy exists. From the moment an European-American is born they have more opportunities and advantages than a person of color, simply from being born with pale skin. In addition, institutionalized racism, systematic racism, and structural racism exist. Racism as a system functions only with power as a vehicle and skin color automatically imbues Euro-Americans with that power. So yes, when you give up the identity "white" it means you are willing to give away the unethical power given to you by virtue of your skin color by a racist system and all the advantages that go with it-- including making more money. Of course it will take more time and effort to work this change in meaning and substance into the consciousness of all and create actions with it, but changing the label is a start.

Many European-Americans get caught up in something called "white guilt." While it is important to explore ones own feelings about racism, it is not productive to naval gaze and focus on oneself since the issue isn't really about us, it is about what is happening to people of color. Many European-Americans get defensive about issues of race because they think they are being attacked or blamed. No one in particular caused this mess but it's up to all of us to fix it. We all have to take responsibility to change our community. If we don't help to change it, who will? Getting tangled up in a web of guilt does no one any good. It is important not to think of yourself as a target or the problem, but part of the solution. As European-Americans we have to refocus our energies on our own thoughts and actions which can change the way things are for the better.

In order to equalize that power structure as European-American people we must consciously acknowledge it and then simultaneously reject it. If one believes in true equity and equal treatment, one will work to eliminate their own added power based on racial categorization. Equalizing power is another important way to create a more democratic society. We must commit ourselves to anti-racist work and fighting inequality in all its forms. This also means supporting equalizing measures such as Affirmative Action, which attempts to rectify the lack of opportunities people of color receive.

It is also important to make explicit efforts to integrate the voices, experiences, and perspectives of people of color. That is the only way one can truly learn from others what it is like to experience racism, particularly the type with a power component, which most European-Americans have never experienced. It is also the best way to become an ally and join together in common efforts to combat racism. It is necessary that European-Americans find out what people of colors' needs are by asking them directly and being willing to create multicultural partnerships in which we can all work on cultural competency issues together. Anti-racist dialogue, discussion, learning, and action with a goal of developing effective tools, tactics, and strategies to bring about equal treatment is imperative. We must dedicate ourselves to creating living and breathing social justice in our society through our actions.

The sad reality is that often European-American people don't want to talk about these issues because they make them feel uncomfortable. Much of that uncomfortableness comes from ignorance and unfamiliarity. Many European-American people do not know they carry white privilege and they do not even half way understand nor see the harms modern day racism has on people of color (nor how historical harms are continuing to impact people today). They do not see how they could in any way be responsible for it either.

Who wants to accept that because they happen to be born with a certain shade of skin that they need to work hard on these issues? I don't think most European-Americans think racism is their problem. I think they think it's a people of color problem that needs to be solved by people of color. Euro-Americans don't see how they can help solve the issue and would rather leave it up to communities of color to work on racism. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. If people of color could eradicate racism, believe me, they would have by now. It is going to take European-Americans to get involved too if we are going to fundamentally and systematically eradicate racism as a whole in America.

Most European-Americans don't even understand that racism is a systematic problem that is woven into the very fabric of this country in every way, shape, and form. It is institutionalized and it will now operate without conscious independent thought from most of us. That is exactly why it is so insidious and hard to see (especially for European-American people) who often do not feel its effects or see the negative impact and harm it has on people and society (even European-American folks themselves). This is exactly why we need to be way more critically conscious to uncover the way racism acts as an agent in our society and the exact ways in which it acts. European-American folks need to learn how racism directly harms them as well as people of color and that starts with listening to people of color's experiences with racism and inequality and being willing to make changes. If we want to end racism, it starts with our own actions.

In order to dismantle racism European-American folks have to be directly involved in a hands-on way to rip it apart piece by piece. It was Bob Marley who said, "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds." If Euro-American folks can't free their own minds from mental slavery they can never break free of the brain washing and propaganda that has stripped them away of their own humanity. If we are to ever join with our brothers and sisters of color we need to get back in touch with our own selves.

We need to reclaim our ancestry and understand what was stolen from us first and how it was done. We will not only start to be able to savor and enjoy our own ethnic cultural traditions but then we will also know an inkling of the pain and path of our brothers and sisters of color-- since they were also brutally assimilated and continue to face it until this day. Once we understand our common history of exploitation, forced assimilation, the colonization of our own minds, then we can more easily begin with cultivate solidarity with each other against the common enemy and oppressor who did this to all of us. And we can organize against this oppressor together once we have stopped dividing ourselves along race, class, and other lines.

And yes part of this process has to mean that European-American folks need to work on these issues themselves! We need to educate ourselves and each other! We need to call each other out on each others negative actions! If we don’t keep each other in check, who will? People need to be told when something is unacceptable and not okay! We also need to encourage positive and principled action based on reason and ethics. We have to hold each other accountable to bring about the kind of society we need, want, and deserve.

We need to work to get European-Americans out of their state of ignorance and denial. We need to get them included in anti-racist work and organizing. They are so needed in this work! In addition to working as allies with people of color, Euro-Americans need to work with each other on these issues. Often times it is European-Americans themselves who can bring forth a productive dialogue and move other European-American's thinking and actions on the subject of race forward. Due to European-Americans feeling threatened by people of color or feeling put on the defensive, it helps if Euro-Americans organize each other. If it is another person you feel is "like you" telling you how it is, it will likely be accepted more readily. So if European-Americans are not talking to other European-Americans about anti-racism, then things will likely stay the same.

We owe it to ourselves, our community, and our society to confront these issues head on and have an open and frank dialogue about these issues. We need to admit we see the big pink elephant in the middle of the room and be brave enough to face it and take it on together. The key to progress is not color blindness, in which we pretend that race does not exist at all as a sociological concept. The key to progress is race consciousness, where we acknowledge our cultural and ethnic differences and work to embrace them in a pluralistic way. It is my hope that all European-American people can become effective allies and advocates for people of color within European-American circles. The only way this can happen is if European-American people are willing to talk about race no matter how uncomfortable, awkward, or taboo it may seem. We need to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. It starts with identifying ourselves as European-Americans and systematically rejecting whiteness.

One may think that words aren't that important. You may think, who cares if I call myself "white"? However, how one publicly identifies as a person has a huge impact on others. Psychologically, sociologically, politically, and culturally speaking, what words and phrases we use completely shapes the way in which people see things and do things. If you want people to stop identifying with oppression, feeding white supremacy, and get back to their roots, the process forward has to start with dropping the term "white."